FROM NEWSLETTER 161:

Bruce Gillan (1934 - 2015)




Bruce Gillan, a long-time committee member and former vice president of Watercolour New Zealand, passed away recently on July 5. Well known in Wellington art circles both as an artist and a picture-framer, Bruce exhibited his paintings at Splash, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Millwood Gallery and Alfred Memelink Artspace. Although he was suffering from terminal cancer, Bruce was keen to visit WWI in Watercolours at Splash and spent an enjoyable couple of hours going round the exhibition. He was particularly pleased to see a red dot on one of his paintings. Jacky Pearson, who knew Bruce well, shares her memories of him:

"Bruce Gillan was a much-loved friend, advisor, painting colleague and framer. Indeed, he was everyone’s friend. For Bruce, a very kind and patient man, nothing was ever too much trouble. He loved his golf, red wine, gardening, reading thrillers and last but not least, painting oils, watercolours and pen and wash - the last being my favourites of his work.

I first met Bruce when he was exhibiting his pen and washes at the Ross Gallery in Eastbourne. I thought his work was wonderful and enquired about him as I had only just moved to the area. I was told he was also an excellent framer.

Bruce became my framer for 20 years. We also went painting together, en plein air. On one occasion we were painting on a roadside grassy verge, looking towards some barns. We were well away from any houses, in the countryside near Upper Hutt, and had been painting for some time when a large car slowed down as it drove past. The man then stopped and reversed back, wound his window down and repeatedly uttered “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it...” Well, by the tone of his voice I decided that he didn’t think we were talent that Peter McLeavey had failed to spot! No, he was furious that we were daring to paint on his grass which was miles away from his house and looked like a council berm. Anyway, we apologised and packed up - half way through a masterpiece of course. We thought it was hilarious and whenever Bruce and I shared any news after that, the other would say “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it...”

I know many artists and golf friends will have good stories and happy memories of Bruce. He was always willing to do rush jobs, although I tried hard not to ring him at the last minute with the dimensions of the painting that I would still be working on while Bruce was making up the frame for me.

Bruce died peacefully at the Riverlea Rest Home in Lower Hutt. He was positive to the end, never complaining about his illness. I saw him four days before he died. He held my hand and said “Everything will be all right, just close the curtains will you – the sun is a bit strong... No, I’m not suffering at all, just tired. I feel all right.”

Well Bruce you are going to be missed. You were loved by family and friends, and that’s pretty good."

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